Jaw-dropping Jupiter: NASA's Juno mission eyes the gas giant
The hulking gas-giant Jupiter resides millions of miles away in the solar system, but it's not alone. The planet has dozens of moons, and also hosts an orbiting visitor from Earth, NASA's Juno spacecraft.
The craft's JunoCam snaps images of the fascinating, cloudy planet, and NASA makes those raw images available for anyone to download and manipulate. Juno has only been in residence at Jupiter since mid-2016, but the efforts of NASA scientists and image-processing space fans offer a scintillating close look at the gas giant's swirling atmosphere.
This image shows Jupiter sunny-side-up. NASA refers to it as a "Jupiterrise." Citizen scientist Alex Mai processed the image using NASA data from Juno to really make it pop.
Let's step back to 2011, when Juno was still on Earth. This photo shows the spacecraft hooked to an overhead crane as it's lowered to a fueling stand.
Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, and spent nearly five years on its trip through space to reach orbit around Jupiter. NASA says its mission's aim is to "find out more about the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core."
Photo by: NASA/KSC
Juno snapped this image on June 21, 2016, as it neared Jupiter and prepared to jump into orbit around the planet in July. The view from 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers) away shows the gas giant and its four biggest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Jupiter looks like a watercolor
Amateur astronomer Roman Tkachenko cropped and adjusted a raw Juno image to produce this watercolor-like close-up look at Jupiter's stormy atmosphere. The color processing helps to make the rotating clouds stand out. Juno took the image on Feb. 2, 2017.
NASA shared this color-processed Juno image of Jupiter in early March, noting it has a "resolution better than any previous pictures from Earth or other spacecraft." Juno was just 5,400 miles (8,700 kilometers) from Jupiter when it snapped the picture in December.
Three unusual hitchhikers accompanied Juno into orbit around Jupiter. These Lego figurines represent astronomer Galileo Galilei, and the Roman god Jupiter and his wife, Juno. "Juno holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt," NASA notes.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC
Jupiter's complicated south pole
NASA's Juno spacecraft traveled over Jupiter's south pole to get this fascinating image in early February of this year. NASA sets the scene: "This enhanced color version highlights the bright high clouds and numerous meandering oval storms. Away from the polar region, the seeming chaos of Jupiter's polar region gives way to the more familiar color banding that Jupiter is known for."
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/John Landino
Jupiter's southern lights
This infrared Juno image from August 2016 really stands out from the crowd. NASA describes it as "an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter." This view is normally hidden from Earth's telescopes, but the Juno's orbit gave the spacecraft a good look at the planet's polar region.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM
Closing in on Jupiter
This subtle view of Jupiter rewards a closer look. The planet's bands of color are visible near the bottom while complex rotating storm systems appear nearer the top. The image was taken about two hours prior to Juno's closest approach to Jupiter during a flyby in August 2016.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
Raw Jupiter image
This picture from early February is a good example of what the raw images from Juno's JunoCam can look like. NASA makes the images available for private citizens to download and process. Some of the most eye-catching Jupiter images from the Juno mission are the result of work by citizen scientists who combine and enhance the raw images into new creations that highlight the swirls and whirls of the planet's atmosphere.
Photo by: NASA
NASA's Juno spacecraft doesn't have its own paparazzi riding along to take pictures of its space exploits, so we have to rely on this artist's rendering to imagine what it looks like in orbit around Jupiter.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Juno delivered this image back to Earth after snapping it during a close flyby in December. Citizen scientist Eric Jorgensen cropped the image and enhanced the color to make the intricate swirls in the clouds visible.
The bright spot in the upper left is known as a "pearl." NASA explains, "The 'pearl' is one of eight massive rotating storms at 40 degrees south latitude on Jupiter, known colloquially as the 'string of pearls.'"